Learning & Development

Study: Traditional Development Alone Not Enough to Build Visionary Leaders

Recent research found that formal leadership training—by itself—is not sufficient to equip business leaders with the skills they need to be successful.

Leading ideas

Instead, organizations that “build a context for leader growth” develop better leaders and business outcomes compared to organizations that merely use formal training, according to “High-Impact Leadership: The New Leadership Maturity Model,” a report from Bersin by Deloitte®, Deloitte Consulting LLP. “Context refers to systems, processes, cultures, and practices that support leaders in their daily development,” the firm explained.

“Changing market dynamics, new technologies, shifting government regulations or new customer expectations all require leaders that can understand and respond effectively to seismic shifts that affect their businesses,” said Andrea Derler, PhD, leadership and succession research leader for Bersin by Deloitte.

“Our research shows that organizations that adopt the new systemic leadership maturity model have 37 percent more revenue by employee and were twice as profitable as compared with organizations that focus only on formal leadership programs. They also are three times more likely to innovate, and six times more likely to produce leaders who are collaborative and provide vision and direction than peer organizations that rely solely on traditional leadership development programs,” Derler added.

Bersin by Deloitte describes the most important practices for creating “organizational context” as follows:

  • Communicate “widely what it means to be a leader … ;
  • Foster closer collaboration between business and HR leaders to define future needs of leaders;
  • Expose leaders to situations where they can learn from colleagues, clients, thought leaders, and external sources;
  • Encourage knowledge sharing between leaders across the organization; and
  • Embolden leaders to take risks by supporting, sharing, and discussing new concepts and ideas.”

The firm points to two organizations that are successfully employing some of those practices. First, it says Xerox has implemented a pilot reverse mentoring program in which Millennial workers serve as mentors and are paired with senior executives. They meet monthly one-on-one to discuss a variety of topics related to their professional lives, as well as life outside of work, Bersin by Deloitte reported.

The program leads “to greater understanding of the other generation and the changes that affect them both. The goal is to leverage information and insights about the business to foster a more effective work environment.” Feedback on the program’s impact has been positive, and Xerox expects to expand the program to include more generations and job functions.

The other organization is Erie Insurance’s Foundations of ERIE Leadership. Learning and business leaders at Erie Insurance collaborated to develop a leadership model. Mid-level business leaders were then taught leadership behaviors and given the opportunity to share their experiences, Bersin by Deloitte explained.

The process helps employees learn about different lines of business and gain an appreciation for each line’s role in the company’s overall success. Individual leadership action plans are developed for program participants, who are required to follow those plans back on the job, according to Bersin by Deloitte. Networking events help keep participants connected after the program ends.

“While formal leadership programs remain important, this latest research underscores the need to utilize the organization as a system to develop leaders in their daily context and expose them to sources outside the company that can accelerate their development,” said Anthony Abbatiello, principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP, global leadership leader. “The resulting improvements in innovation, collaboration, and financial performance demonstrate the value of this contextual approach.”

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